Au revoir, Paris! Ann Mah takes us off the tourist path on a culinary tour of France's favorite regional foods.
With crisp, dark-golden edges and a tender, savory, bright-green interior, these chard fritters are a perfect example of the French culinary ability to transform a few humble ingredients into something greater than the sum of their parts.
Farçous come from Aveyron, an unsung region in south-central France that is as famous for its emigrants as its rugged landscape. In the 19th century, poverty forced waves of Aveyronnais to move to Paris, where they worked menial jobs, hauling coal to private apartments. Coal delivery gave way to coal shops, where customers sometimes sipped a glass of wine while placing an order; eventually, these shops evolved into cafés. Even today, Aveyron is synonymous with Parisian cafés — in fact, storied establishments like Brasserie Lipp, Les Deux Magots, and Café de Flore all have roots in the region.
These days, Aveyron is still difficult to access by train or car, which is probably why its cuisine remains relatively undiscovered. (One dish, aligot, a potato purée beaten with fresh cheese curds, has recently gained transatlantic popularity. American recipes are often so far from the original — calling for aged cheese like Comté or Gruyère instead of milky, fresh cheese curds — that they would cause an Aveyronnais physical pain.)
Aveyron's Most Famous Recipe
Our recipe for pommes aligot is unabashedly full of Gruyère but with that rich, nutty flavor and those arm's-length cheese pulls, we just couldn't help ourselves. One bite of these insanely cheesy potatoes and you'll agree.
I've eaten some of the best meals of my life in Aveyron, especially at the farmhouse table of my friend, Cathy, who's one of the best home cooks I know. Her farçous are justly famous — savory, crisp marvels that float off the fork — and she serves them as a first course, accompanied by homemade red currant jam. Farçous are also popular at markets and street fairs; fried on an enormous, oiled surface, they fill the air with an irresistible perfume.
Of course, there are as many different recipes for farçous as there are Aveyronnais grandmothers. Some people add bacon or sausage meat, but that's not the way I remember them. I've chosen to keep my recipe vegetarian, packing it with as much chard as possible. You can use also combination of other leaves, such as spinach, dandelion greens, or nettles, as desired.
Farçous make a lovely first course or light meal, accompanied by soup or salad. When I wrote to Cathy to ask for her recipe (she declined), she told me her grandmother used to make farçous for picnics. "She always gave us a jar of gooseberry or raspberry jam in the basket," she wrote. "To my taste, farçous (without meat) pair beautifully with jam that's a little bit tart, like gooseberry, raspberry, apricot, or rhubarb. But, really, they're good with any kind of jam."
Farçous from Aveyron
Makes about 16 (2 1/2- to 3-inch) pancakes
Swiss chard leaves (from about 2 bunches, center ribs and stems removed)
coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
garlic, coarsely chopped
medium onion, coarsely chopped
large eggs, lightly beaten
freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or olive oil, for frying
Slightly tart jam for serving, such as red currant, gooseberry, raspberry, apricot, or rhubarb (optional)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the chard and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse the leaves under cool water. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess liquid and place in the bowl of a food processor with the blade attachment or blender. (You may need to do this in two batches.)
Add the parsley, onion, and garlic and pulse until the mixture is finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the eggs, milk, flour, salt, and pepper and mix well to combine.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Meanwhile, line a rack or baking sheet with paper towels. Give the batter a good stir, and pour 2 tablespoons of it into the pan. Repeat until you have 3 to 4 pancakes in the pan. Fry until deep golden-brown on the bottom, about 2 1/2 minutes. Flip and cook until the second side is golden-brown, about 2 minutes more. Transfer to the paper towels.
Repeat with remaining batter, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. Serve immediately with jam if desired.
Greens: Feel free to use a combination of chard leaves, spinach, dandelion greens, nettles, or other leafy greens. Also, don't throw away the chard stems – they make a delicious soup, puréed with potato and onion.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
A Culinary Tour de France!
Join Kitchn and celebrated food writer Ann Mah as we take a tour of France's tastiest regions. On this trip, we're skipping Ile-de-France, home of the city of light, and celebrating the foods and flavors of Occitania, Côte d'Azur, Normandy, Brittany, and Alsace. We'll cook our way through an iconic dish from each region and explore how they've helped France earn its status as one of the gastronomic hubs of the world.